By Jaap-Peter Hazelhoff
Chapter 58 - A Welcome Sight
Berdusk, 1371 DR, Eleint, 10th day, afternoon; somewhere down in the sewers
With Rrufrral and three other kobolds leading the way, the dismal, cold and smelly group makes their way through the maze that is Berdusk’s sewer system. Soon all have lost sense of direction – with exception of the kobolds. After what seems a trek of hours – the sunrod has burnt to about halfway – Rrufrral turns around, its ratty tail swaying back and forth in anticipation and small horned head cocked at Telsom. “Close to big bosses now. Not farr walk.” To the weary group that comment almost sounds as an insult, but with no better guide towards those who have kidnapped their friend they’ll have to believe the ratty creature. After two more turns of the channel they’re walking in it seems the creature has kept its word. Rrufrral points ahead at a small dark opening in the side of the sewer. In the light of Immerine’s staff the opening seems to be a passageway out of the sewers. In a whining a pleading voice the kobold sorcerer cringes at Telsom’s feet. “Big bosses nest place. Rrufrral nice. Rrufrral go now?” Just as the sorcerer makes the request, a wavering light can be seen in the opening. Someone holding a torch and another small light source is entering the sewers…
Immerine straightens and all weariness seems to leave her body as she comes alert and taut. Her eyes narrow and she watches the approaching lights carefully. Squinting past the light of her staff, Immerine tries to make out whom – or what has entered the tunnels in front of them. The figure in the distance is carrying a torch and a small lantern of sorts. Suddenly a chill creeps up Immerine’s spine and a disturbing yet somehow familiar but unwelcome realization dawns – undead. Clutching the pommel of his short sword, Jez peers deeply into the opening, eyes piercing the deep darkness where human eyes can not. He moves into position just behind Telsom but closest to his shield so that his view of the tunnel is not obstructed but he has sufficient cover. A lone figure steps carefully into the sewage channel, carrying a torch and a small lantern of sorts. Below an oversized tunic the figure seems bare-legged and feminine…”Hey, I see some one ahead.” A grinning Jez says. “And she’s has a great set of legs! I wonder if she likes to dance.”
“Yes my servant. Go with my blessing, you’ve served me well.” The paladin says in a hushed tone as he begins to move towards the light his shield and sword each held tightly. Suddenly the sewage ripples between the paladin and the torch-bearing figure; two shapes burst forth to the surface, drawing screams of fear from the kobolds. As the rolling wave of muck slowly subsides, it is followed by a waft of foul air stronger than the stench of the sewer and enough to bring one close to retching. The two more or less humanoid things open their eyes to gaze into the tunnel, one pair each way. Tight drawn skin over clearly visible bones, the eyes seem to burn like hot coals with an unholy glow.
Darting between the Big Folk, the four kobolds value the better part of valor and hurry back, splashing through the sewage towards safer areas. Seeing their guide flee, Matteo lunges to grab the small reptilian sorcerer. Despite the Sembian’s speed, the little creature proves the more nimble and darts under the man’s grasp into the darkness of the tunnel beyond. Cursing under his breath, Matteo straightens again and draws his sword.
Pulling back a bit with a look of disgust, the strange woman whips the lantern forward, fully intent on having it smash into the unnatural thing facing her. The movement causes the flames of her torch to light her features and the others recognize her as their missing quarry. In front of the returned priestess of Kelemvor, the creature hisses menacingly through clenched – needlelike teeth, and regards her for a moment with hate filled eyes, before turning on its heels to face Portia’s friends.
“By Lliira… the stench!” The half-elf loudly swears. The rancid smell of rotting flesh overtakes Jezbodiah. The Lliiran unsheathes his short sword and steps back and away from the rotting zombie-things. Weaving the blade through a series of fluid motions, Jez prepares his blade to thrust at the first creature should they move towards him, while holding the sunrod in the air trying to provide as much light as possible. Stepping aside to avoid the waving blade of the half-elf, Immerine’s eyes focus strangely on the erupting creatures and a single slender hand dips beneath her bosom to draw forth the simple, yet beloved symbol of her patroness. She brings the symbol to her lips, kisses it and holds it forth… “I know you beasts and what drives you forth, return to your eternal slumber in the arms of the mother, Khelliara grant you rest!”
The closer of the two creatures hisses back evilly at Immerine’s words and keeps advancing through the muck towards the group, followed on its heels by the second creature. Seeing the creature ignoring her, Portia throws the small oil-lamp at it. The flaming projectile sails through the air – and past the two creatures to land with a splash in the sewage. The splash of the impromptu grenade spatters up in the air and onto the paladin. Lips moving in a silent prayer, Telsom strides forward his blade leading the way. As he closes with the creatures, a thin film of oil is slowly spreading where he stands.
Tempest’s eyes gleam as he’s wades forward, mace and shield ready to engage in melee. He appears visibly relieved at being able to let out some of his frustration at being helpless. Pushing his way past Immerine and Jezbodiah he reaches the paladin who is engaged with one of the foul creatures. Grimacing at the smell of undeath and oil, Telsom focuses all of his attention on his blade weaving it towards the creatures before him.
Telsom’s opponent hisses evilly at the paladin, “Hssss… Die human!” The words, though spoken with a clear Chondathan accent somehow sound twisted and wrong. Trying to block the waving blade with one arm the creature rakes with its other filthy claw at Telsom, the screeching sound of sharp nails over metal grating momentarily on everyone’s ears. The other creature has set its sights apparently on the approaching half-orc. Evil anticipation gleams in its eyes while closing in on Tempest; however the Kelemvorite is undaunted and swings his mace in a savage arc towards the skull of the foul thing. As the mace scrapes along the ceiling it sends a brief shower of sparks into the tunnel, though the power behind the swing seems not to have diminished. With a sickening crush the mace lands squarely on the thing’s skull as it tries to grope with wicked claws for the half-orc’s face. A brief fountain of bone shards, rotting brain matter and pieces of skin results from the impact, and the creature is no more as it sinks silently and unmoving into the sewage.
Immerine continues her steadfast presentation as the creatures advance. She seems lost within herself as she grips the symbol in her hand. She reaches out with her mind and soul to the spirits and calls them to obey. Though she feels the spirits in the city, they seem either uncaring or unable to answer and a wave of hopelessness hits the priestess, sending her knees wobbling. Before she loses her balance, two hands reach out and steady her. As she finds her balance again, the hands withdraw and Matteo resumes his indifferent pose at the rear of the group.
Watching as the foul ones turn away from her, and taking a moment to rethink – and curse the loss of her lantern – Portia calls out, “I can’t turn them without having them head in your direction!” Frustration is evident in her voice. “There’s a side passage behind me though. If we can get them to go that way, we’d be rid of them for now!” Portia begins to inch back toward her side passage. Watching where the oil lamp lands, Jez suddenly gets an idea. “Whatever you’re doing milady, it doesn’t seem to be working,” replies the half-elf rouge with disappointment. Taking the sun-rod, he wedges it near his pointed left ear then he swings his back around from underneath his cloak and removes an oil flask. He uncorks the flask and smears flaming oil along the naked edge of his short sword. “I believe your friend is behind these rancid creatures.” He says to Tempest, “That is, if she is your friend.”
Even as she falls back, Portia reaches for her holy symbol, her fingers find nothing though, and with another muffled curse, she recalls that the symbol, along with everything else, has been stripped from her. “Damn them!” Then, changing direction to close on the remaining creature, torch held ready, she calls, “I can’t turn them!” The bitter anger is evident in her voice. Wading through the muck, Portia closes on the remaining corpse, fully intent on burying her flaming torch in its skull.
His lips purse as Matteo regards the priestess in front of him, before his eyes flicker to study the ongoing melee before them. “Careful.” He murmurs quietly, drawing his sword from its sheath with a metallic rasp. Immerine still grips the unicorn symbol in her hand. Her face pales, and a stricken gaze takes hold of her. Insecurity and doubt flash across the young witch’s face as she stares at the creature approaching. She whispers in a soft forlorn voice, “No…”
The half-elf clutches his short sword tightly and wait to see if Telsom and Tempest finish the other ‘sewer zombie’. He readies to spark his short sword against the sewer wall and ignite it if another ‘sewer zombie’ manages to lurch forth from the sewer waters. Tempest growls as he advances on the still standing undead creature. “Die undead beast! May you finally go and meet my Lord!” Lending weight to his words, the priest’s mace slams into the things putrid ribcage. The cracking of bones is clearly audible, despite their waterlogged state. Doubling over by the impact the thing expels foul air and sewage through its clenched teeth. Seeing the opportunity present itself, Telsom lunges in with his blade, severing the undead’s head from the rest of the rotting and foul body. With a tearing sound the things head rips a chunk of desiccated flesh with it as it splashes into the muck, followed by the toppling body. Displaying a satisfied and fierce grin the half-orc looks up at the paladin and Portia, and then back into the tunnel to see if there are more.
Giving Tempest a small grin, Telsom claps the half-orc on the shoulder. “There’s no one I’d least want at my side in the courts than you, but you can wade into battle with me whenever the opportunity presents itself.” The grin remains on the paladin’s face as he turns when Immerine is struck.
Matteo’s eyes flicker in momentary surprise from the advancing creatures towards Immerine before he manages to regain control of himself. The briefest of moments passes before he sheathes his sword while taking a step forward, bringing himself level with the young witch. Quickly checking that Tempest and Telsom have the second creature in hand, his hand flashes to strike the young woman hard across the face and he whispers harshly, “You shame your teachers, wychlaran. Control yourself.”
The paladin’s face becomes an impassive mask as he watches to see what Immerine will do. His body language gives off the impression he’d like nothing better than to slide his blade between the Sembian’s ribs. The slap resounds through the tunnel and tears spring to the witch’s eyes from the force of the blow. “Only you would dare strike me, my lord,” she says quietly. Turning back to the sight of the creature and the woman beyond she says louder, “Finish your game so we may leave!” Turning back to Matteo she walks past the nobleman down the tunnel in the direction from whence they came. Looking down the tunnel at the departing woman Matteo sighs then turns back towards his companions, his face expressionless. After a moment he moves forward towards them to check on their condition and welcome Portia back.
His mouth gaps open as Matteo strikes Immerine, but only for a moment. Jezbodiah looks at Matteo, then at Immerine puzzled. “I’m not getting involved in this.” Pips the young half-elf as Immerine sloshes past him. Looking at the others, he says, “Come along. This light wand is almost half-way empty. I hate be stuck in this sewer with spear traps, giant rats, kobolds, and such, and in the dark.” Looking at Portia, he says with a smile, “The clergy of Kelemvor will be proud their wayward sheep found us.”
As the last creature slips into the muck, Portia, torch raised to strike, takes in those before her. Her eyes widen as she recognizes the Sunite, and sees her Lord’s colors on the vaguely familiar half-orc. In disbelief, hardly expecting to see the paladin wading about in a sewer, she says, “Telsom?” The single word conveys numerous questions. Even as the paladin looks back down the sewer at those behind him, Portia lowers her torch, now once again only a light source.
With companions close by, and as the adrenaline of her escape begins to fade, the chill once more enfolds the inadequately clothed priestess. Slumping slightly, she wraps her free arm tight about herself, and says, “Can we go now? I’m so cold…” Telsom speaks to the priestess while continuing to look at Matteo. “Aye let’s get you out of this horrid place. Some warm clothes, a bottle of wine and some well cooked food will do you good…after you bath of course.” As he finishes speaking the corners of his mouth turn up, the paladin obviously happy after seeing the woman safe if somewhat disheveled.
“Portia! Thank the Judge of the Damned your safe!” Tempest beams with happiness that his fellow cleric has been found. Pride at successfully performing his mission is apparent on his ugly face too. “We need to get you back to the temple now.” He looks around at his companions grinning from ear to ear, oblivious to the altercation between Matteo and Immerine. Portia nods readily, smiling wanly at the man’s enthusiasm. She raises a hand to her head at the volume though. “Oh, I wholly agree, friend, but please, a bit softer. My head is pounding…”
“Indeed,” Matteo says in a subdued voice as he draws close, his eyes meeting those of Telsom before he turns to Portia. Inclining his head in a slight bow he smiles gently and greets the priestess, “Glad to see you again, my lady.” Removing his overcoat he offers it to Portia for added warmth and adds, “I doubt any of us wants to stay here any longer than necessary.” The Kelemvorite priestess, seeing more familiar faces, accepts Matteo’s overcoat with a grateful look.
“If you don’t mind, master Wisp…” Matteo says to Jez, “…would you be so good as to keep our light and lead the way back?” Turning to Tempest he adds, “Could you take the rearguard, Tempest? I would hate for any more of these that might be around attacking us from behind as we leave and you stand the best chance of seeing anything in the dark.” The half orc bobs his head up and down enthusiastically, still elated at his success. Wanting nothing more than to escape the tunnels, she falls in with the others. “Where are we?” Portia asks softly, revealing the fact that she has no clue as to their location.
While the others are discussing and welcoming Portia, Immerine moves away from the group, back towards where the group came from, she initially doesn’t notice another light source ahead. Just when an encounter is near, does the weary woman realize that there are more visitors – or natives down in the tunnels… Immerine lowers her head knowing the ones behind her are not prepared to face any more dangers at the moment. The woman stands in the middle of the pipe and shouts loudly to the oncoming light. “Hold where you are! Announce yourself or may Khelliara take mercy on your soul for daring to impede one of her chosen!” The wychlaran shouts, putting on a confident air. With a sigh, Telsom starts towards Immerine at a jog. “I’ve no trouble with people trying to kill me, but let them try somewhere less disgusting than this.” Already getting used to the heavier piece of steel in his hand, the paladin spins it as he nears Immerine ready to attack anything that might try to harm the wychlaran.
“What now?” The half-elf utters in disbelief, “Sounds like Immerine’s looking to pick a fight. Come on you three. Let’s catch up before Telsom pierces himself on another spear again.” The half-elf advances forward, with his short sword still in hand, taking the sun rod with him. Seeing the half-orc start to move, Jez keeps going. Tempest motions his fellow priest to follow. Looking back over his shoulder to make sure there is nothing coming from that direction, Tempest makes his way forward to the others in order to intercept anything that might hurt Portia. Moving as quickly as she can to keep pace with the others, Portia can’t fail to note the half-orc Kelemvorite’s protective presence. “I’ve seen you before, haven’t I?” She asks wanly. “At the Crystal Mansion?” Tempest nods to Portia. “Yes, I came from the Crystal Mansion to help these fine people find you at Lord Sillisten’s orders.” Pride at fulfilling his Lord’s mission is obvious in his expression. “My thanks,” Portia says. “I don’t even know what happened. I was going back to the mansion, I remember that, and then the next thing I know, I’m waking up, bound hand and foot and with a splitting headache.” She pales slightly as she once again dwells on her recent trials. “Who knows how long I might have wandered around down here if you hadn’t come for me?”
Emlyn, being the small head of this even smaller expedition, startles as she hears the noises and the loud woman’s voice. Despite being in the muck even above her waist, she sloshes awkwardly forward, her makeshift ‘lantern’ held high and her other fist clenched. Then she hears the tones of a voice definitely more familiar to her, and calls out in a clear voice: “Sir Telsom? Is that you? It is Emlyn, with Marc and, well, a little djinnling!” Buzzing in irritation, the pixie reaches out to cuff the halfling on the side of the head. “A gift not for you to give, knowledge of my presence is! My people live not long if jump out from behind trees to shake hands with orcs we do!” Puddy whispers softly to Emlyn. “Hey!” The halfling mutters quietly, rubbing her head. “Well, I am not acquainted with your people,” she whispers in reply, soft enough that only Puddy and possibly Marc can hear her. “But for your own safety, I suggest you at least make yourself known to the lady called Immerine – if what Marc has told me is true, chances are she might see you already!”
Coming up behind Telsom, Matteo raises an eyebrow at the sound of Emlyn’s voice and murmurs, “Well, this is something of a surprise.” Raising his voice, he calls out, “Come forward, but don’t make any sudden movements.” Immerine maintains her stance in the center of the tunnel. She waits quietly as the others gather at her back. Portia follows at Tempest’s side, wondering at the appearance of the halfling. Marc, she remembers, but what’s a djinnling? She remains silent
After a brief silence Marc notices Emlyn’s startling. He stops to listen more intensely, holding the sword fiercely in his right hand. Just when Marc thinks he might hear something Emlyn calls out loud. “Tch…” he whispers at her, “Would you …? Ah, never mind.” First then he realizes what she’d said. Before he can answer, however, he hears Matteo’s reply. “Sir Matteo!” he loudly utters with enthusiasm, “are you alright?” His look wanders aside for a moment while he thinks. “Hey, sir!” he yells, “Are the others there with you?” In the light of Emlyn’s lantern Marc’s teeth light up in the dark; he’s broadly smiling. After another moment of reflection he adds to that: “Sir, we’re glad to help you of course.” As a matter of course he raises the sword a little. “But you could come here too… There’s an exit here you know!”
As well as the situation permits, Emlyn walks on to show herself, now again calm and holding high her ‘lantern’ to illuminate their faces. “Aye, Marc’s right… all you have to do is ‘follow the light’ so to speak.” Matteo permits a slight smile to cross his face at the sight of Emlyn and steps forward to stand beside Immerine. “Time to leave, I think.” He says in a wry voice. Raising his voice a little so that Emlyn can hear him clearly, he calls, “If the exit is a set of rung-stairs leading up, make sure Marc doesn’t go up until we’ve had a chance to check the rungs for any traps. We’ve seen a few of those while we’ve been down here.” Standing to the side of the tunnel to allow others to pass, Telsom’s face takes on a pleased look as he glances in Emlyn’s way. Remaining quiet the paladin offers the woman a wink as he waits for the others to move up to the surface.
Behind the halfling woman Marc’s dirty hair is faintly visible as he carefully follows Emlyn’s lead. His eyes grow at Matteo’s words. Worry wrinkles his forehead as he says, “Traps? …Traps!? …ehm we ehm…” Then he adds on a more cheerful tone, “Ahr, Guess we were lucky then!” Smilingly he speaks a bit louder to the human figures resembling Matteo, Immerine and Telsom down the tunnel: “Good to see you.” He nods in greeting. Emlyn smiles brightly at the knight and the nobleman. “Our cue to leave too, then. As for the traps, well, Marc met our surroundings up close and personal, but that’s about it.” She curiously eyes the company, having seen only Matteo, Telsom and Jez before, but decides to wait until they have returned to the surface.
Immerine shakes her head as people move around her to greet Emlyn and Marc. As quietly as she can, she stands away and waits for Marc or Emlyn to lead the way out. Removing his cowl and showing his face, Jez nods at Emlyn and Marc. “You said there was an exit?” Nodding in confirmation, a dripping Marc says, “Yes, this way.” And he points back into the sewers from where they came. Following Marc and Emlyn, the others make their way through the dismal and cold sewers to where a pale and feeble shaft of daylight hits the surface. A rope dangles down, just not reaching the surface of the muck. Of the erstwhile guides, Rrufrral and his cohorts, there is no trace. Everyone, including the recent arrivals to the tunnels, feels wet, cold and smelly. A bath at the Running Stag seems like a very good idea…
Emlyn plods on towards the exit, now and then shaking her head at something that isn’t entirely apparent. When Portia and Tempest start their conversation, she looks at the young woman, but does not say anything yet again waiting till they reach the surface. Then her gaze shifts towards Immerine, Matteo and Telsom again, this time more sharply now that even Jez hasn’t said anything yet. “You look a little worse for wear.” She says, not unkindly. Then she scratches her curls and a slight, shallow frown appears on her forehead. “This isn’t as clear to me as an Amnian merchant’s bill, but I may be able to ease some of your pain.” At the newly arrived halfling’s statement, Portia looks at those that have come for her, paying a bit more attention and noting their wounds. “I have little of Kelemvor’s power left…” She sighs, “…But I can ease some of the hurts you’ve taken for me. Once…” She adds, “…We get out of this stinking hole.”
With good manners, the half-elf waits until Portia has finished her conversation with Emlyn. “Hello.” He says to Emlyn, removing his cowl so she can get a better look at his face. He waves his open hand as a friendly gesture. “I’m fine but Immerine and Telsom could use the help.” Nodding at Jez’s words Matteo glances at Portia. “We can add a little to what you know regarding what befell you, learned primarily from Lord Sillisten.” Pausing only momentarily he looks about at their current surroundings with an expression of considerable distaste and adds, “However, it can wait until later. For now I suggest we all leave this place.” “I still have some of Kelemvor’s blessings available to me. I will heal you now if you want me to” Tempest volunteers.
Marc is the first to return at the bottom of the shaft. He looks up and sees the rope hanging. He smiles as he nods, and then he turns to the approaching halfling and the others behind her. Marc doesn’t go up first though. Planning to help everyone climbing the rope he waits half a step further. “Good to see you again, sir!” He says with a thankful grin on his face, when he hands the end of the rope to Matteo. Reaching for the rope that hangs down Matteo gives it a quick, hard tug to check that it is secure and makes good on his suggestion, climbing up it while using his feet against the wall to provide added assistance. As he nears the top he pauses to listen just in case anyone lies in wait before hauling himself up and over the lip of the hole.
When Matteo is climbing he says, “There are rungs at the wall, they seem to be strong enough.” Then Marc looks at his friends as they come closer. His eyes grow surprised as he sees the red haired priestess. Astonished he follows their conversation.
The cold fog is pervasive and doesn’t seem willing to dissipate today as it crawls its cold wet way into the two watchers near the man-hole. Shivering involuntary Ditalidas looks up at the gaunt bard at her side. Nik stands still, hand on the hilt of his rapier. Weren’t it for the man’s tight lips and a mixture of fear and doubt on his features, he could resemble a household guard, or even a son of one of the First Folk Houses… He actually has some roguish handsome ness to him. Shaking her head softly, Ditalidas once more peers into the darkness below. At first it looks like a trick of the eyes, but then when she focuses a bit more there’s lights coming towards the opening. Looking up at Nik to warn him, Ditalidas sees he already noticed the lights as well. Torn between shame, fear and another feeling he can’t place the tall bard stares down into the darkness below, his rapier halfway drawn out of its sheath.
The tall bard swallows hard and says hoarsely “Back up, Milady. We don’t know who -or what- that is…” He glances at Ditalidas as he speaks, and she can see how close the bard is to giving in to his fear and simply running away. But his terror-filled eyes return to the darkness beneath them, and his hand is steady on his sword even as the rest of his body trembles. As the light draws closer Nik takes a single step back, breath hissing through his clenched teeth, and then he forces himself to return to the edge of the opening. He draws his sword smoothly, with a grace and familiarity that belies his repeated claims to have no skill with the weapon. At first glance the sword is as plain as the man who wields it, but it is clearly of fine -possibly master- craftsmanship even if both it and its owner have fallen on hard times. It, like the precious instrument waiting in the carriage, was obviously made for Nik, and he handles it with nearly the same ease.
With his rapier naked in his hand, Nik seems to relax. He stands at the ready, his body seeming to move without his awareness as the man’s gaunt frame shifts in preparation for battle rather than flight. Nik’s haggard face is blank and calm, but his eyes could belong to another man entirely. His wild, terrified eyes betray the fact that the fear is not gone; it is just fuel for another purpose. Like a cornered rat, the tall man is ready to fight to the death for an opportunity to escape. The fact that he could simply turn and run seems to have been forgotten, or perhaps it is just that his own retreat is not what Nik is ready to die to defend.
He clears his throat, then says softly to Ditalidas “Please, Milady, go back to the carriage. If this is not our friends approaching, you must get to safety.” The bard doesn’t look back at her this time; instead he stares at the oncoming light, waiting to see if it heralds friend or foe. Shadows below move in – and block some of – the torch-like light. A vague muttering of voices filters upward and then all of a sudden the rope grows taut and one of the shadowy shapes climbs up. Ditalidas shakes her head. “No, I will not leave you. I’ll stay here. You might need my help.” The bard stiffens slightly as Ditalidas refuses to leave, but as he half turns to tell her again, Nik sees the figure start to climb up the rope. A shudder runs through his gaunt frame and he raises his sword slightly, readying himself for whatever he fears might be climbing up towards them.
Pausing briefly at the sight of the shadowy figure above him, Matteo stills, his feet braced against the filth-covered wall. Trying to make out more detail he remains motionless until his arms begin to burn under the continued weight of his body. Knowing his only real option is either to descend or to continue, he softly calls out, “Who is up there? Identify yourself.” Relief is clearly visible at Ditalidas’ face as she hears Matteo’s familiar voice. With relieved surprise she turns to Nik. “It’s Matteo!” Staring into the gloom beneath them, Nik’s breath softly hisses through clenched teeth, betraying the fear that is still in charge. The tall bard doesn’t lower his sword at all, and his posture indicates that he doesn’t quite believe Ditalidas -or even his own ears.
As Matteo asks the person above to identify himself, Marc puts his head in his neck and says reassuringly to the climbing man, “Oh, nothing… just Ditalidas and Nik.” He takes a deep breath and calls out loud, addressing the two who stand watch outside, “Now look what we found!” A happy, perhaps even naughty, smile forms his lips as he brings his head back to normal position and follows the conversation here below. Ditalidas turns back to the manhole leading into the sewers. “Matteo? Marc? It’s Ditalidas indeed. Come out quickly.” Then suddenly her voice sounds more worried, “Are you okay?”
Nik’s free hand reaches out to Ditalidas, to hold her back away from the manhole but he doesn’t take his attention from the Matteo-shaped object half-way up from the sewer. His hand shakes as it rests on her shoulder, and the tip of his rapier trembles slightly as he says to her hoarsely “How do we know it’s really them?” The bard’s eyes are wild and glassy, and it is obvious that his vivid imagination is working overtime. “How do we know it’s really you?” He barks suddenly to the unfortunate folks in the sewers. “How do we know you’re not something nasty pretending to be them?”
Immerine finally steps forward; obviously her patience has run out. “Do you honestly believe anyone under the sun or surface of this planet would willingly attempt to impersonate someone as marvelous as what my precious Qwenta leaves on the ground to fertilize the soil? It’s him for pity’s sake. Now stand back, we are coming up. If you want to kill us you’ll have to run us through as we appear.” Immerine takes the rope and starts climbing. “Get out of my way Matteo, unless you want this staff shoved up your rear.” The witch says in exasperation. Jez’s eyes open wide in exasperation at Immerine’s remark. He’s about to speak to her when he wisely changes his mind. “The stench of the sewer is starting to get to me.” He says in general “Can’t wait to get out of these clothes.”
The bard blinks, startled by Immerine’s outburst. He swallows hard, looking far less dangerous and even more frightened. Confusion flickers across his craggy face, followed quickly by a growing dismay. Matteo flashes a look of irritation down at Immerine before raising his head to contemplate the nervous, gangly figure above him. Starting to climb again he allows his native Sembian accent to come out as he speaks in the soft drawl of his homeland, “Nik, if you stick me with that sword of yours I’m going to cut off your pay then make you buy the rest of us drinks. Trust me, the lady Immerine drinks worse than a parched sailor newly into port; you’ll be broke in no time. Now make yourself useful and help us up.” That said Matteo climbs up and out of the sewer entrance.
As Matteo’s words banish the last of his fear-driven bravado, Nik’s shoulders slump and the bard lowers his sword until the point hits the street with a faint ring, his haggard face etched with confusion and chagrin. His right hand falls from Ditalidas’ shoulder and Nik takes a step back to give Matteo room, the tip of the sword still clutched in the bard’s left hand dragging across the cobbles with a thin screech that would make a true swordsman wince to see such a fine blade mistreated so. Nik watches dully as Matteo climbs out of the hole, the bard’s gaunt frame trembling with unspent adrenaline and his eyes full of shame and horror at the way he just treated his friends. “I’m sorry.” Nik says hoarsely to Matteo, unable to meet the Sembian’s eyes. The ghost of a smile crosses the bard’s haggard face, a self-mocking, acrid smile that matches the bitterness in his muddy-green eyes. “I just can’t seem to do anything right today, can I?” He sheathes his rapier with a negligent ease that proves the tall man has more than just a passing familiarity with the sword, although he doesn’t give the weapon even a fleeting glance to see if it was damaged by his rough treatment.
Then Nik sighs and steps back to the manhole, an apologetic smile on his craggy face and his sunken eyes bright with shame and bitter self-loathing as he crouches at the edge to reach one large, bony hand down in an offer of help to Immerine. “Here, Milady.” He says wryly. “Let me help you. And if you want to hit me up alongside the head with that staff of yours, well, I’m quite sure I deserve it. Perhaps you might even knock some sense into me.” Immerine bites back the quick reply she is tempted to say when she sees the man’s haunted face above her. She allows the thin, gangly bard to help her from the hole in the ground. Looking back into the sewer a flash of depression washes over the witch and she looks around to get her bearings. “Nik, I would be disappointed in you if you had not accosted us. Considering what this group has been involved in since coming together.” She tries a faint grin which completely fails and a haunted look creeps into her eyes to match the one the bard wears constantly. She says quietly, “I need Qwenta…” Then promptly collapses at Nik’s feet. The tall bard’s obvious relief that Immerine isn’t mad is quickly replaced by shock as she sinks to the cobbles at his feet. Nik looks helplessly back at Matteo, confusion and fear mingling with concern for the fallen witch. “I didn’t do anything…” He whimpers, hands raised and eyes wild as if he expects Matteo to accuse him of hurting Immerine. A look of deep and genuine concern flashes across Matteo’s normally carefully controlled features, betraying real emotion, before he rushes back towards Nik and Immerine to kneel by her fallen body. Flashing a quick look towards Ditalidas he asks, “My lady, do you have a carriage nearby?”
Nik steps back as Matteo rushes to Immerine’s aid, arms hugged across his bony chest as if the gaunt man is afraid he will only make things worse by offering assistance. He stares at Immerine’s fallen form, the fear in his dull eyes for her now instead of himself. When Matteo asks Ditalidas about the carriage, Nik shudders and says “Yes, it’s right over there.” One bony, trembling hand points back at the waiting carriage before he wraps that arm around his chest again. Nik swallows hard, and says finally “Is… is there anything… anything I can do to… to help?” His voice is faint and hesitant, and it is painfully obvious that the bard is used to being pushed to the side in a crisis – if it isn’t his own gangly form that is the focus of attention, that is. His haggard face is pale and his muddy-green eyes are shadowed by doubt and concern. He glances back at Ditalidas in a silent, desperate plea for someone to tell him what to do, before his attention returns to Immerine and Matteo.
“Well, if no else has any objections? …” The half-elf pips, as he climbs towards the surface. “Quite the chivalrous one.” Telsom mutters as he turns scanning this way and that with eyes glazed over the orbs seeking evil in every direction. “Portia… you should go next the ordeals we’ve faced since coming down here can’t possibly measure up to what you’ve been through. Emlyn, Marc you two go next, and then Tempest and I shall meet you above.” Nodding wanly, Portia says, “My thanks, Sir Telsom.” Then she starts up behind the newly met Jez, using the rungs instead of the rope. She crawls out of the hole and, dancing slightly as her bare feet are chilled against the cobbles, hugs herself for warmth. Nodding his head at Telsom’s suggestion, Tempest watches closely to make sure Portia makes the climb up safely. After she’s out of the sewer he begins looking around in the sewers to make sure nothing else is coming after them while he waits his turn.
As the others ascend the rope or rungs, Puddy hovers silently in the air, watching the proceedings, occasionally peering back into the tunnels, suspicious that more Big Folk may soon show up. However, the little fey shortly tires of the dark, smelly sewers, and flies back through the manhole and alights on the shoulders of the tall bard, still saying nothing. Ditalidas steps away from the manhole to give everybody room to climb up. From a distance she looks at how familiar face after familiar face appears.
Bare-legged, covered in slime and flecked with vomit, her hair matted to her head, her natural curls completely hidden beneath the grime, Portia looks pained. With a feeble smile for Ditalidas, and a curious look for Nik – there seem to be a number of people here that she hasn’t met before – Portia kneels by Immerine and places her hand on the woman gently, calling on the power of her god for healing, grimacing slightly as she concentrates on her healing. She’s wearing Matteo’s coat, and beneath that a large man’s shirt (other than an undershirt and panties, that’s it) and holding a torch in her off hand as she prays. Despite the cold wet cobblestones under her knees and the mist floating over her wet and grimy clothes, a spark of warmth starts to flow from her heart through her outstretched hand into the prone woman before her. Though Immerine remains unconscious, some of the hard lines of tension on the young witch’s features smoothen out and her breathing becomes easier.
Behind Portia, Emlyn puts the glowing holy symbol around her neck and climbs up like a monkey, using the rope to reach the first rung and then clambering further. As she sees Immerine’s collapsed form, her brown eyes widen with worry, but when Portia calls on the power of her god to heal the young witch she relaxes a little. Then she notices Matteo’s strained emotions. Walking up to the young nobleman she quietly speaks her mind to him, only half-conscious that she is speaking in halfling. <Do not worry about your lady Immerine, sir Matteo. She is a very strong woman… the most important thing you need to worry about is whether you should venture to be there when she wakes up.> A little more seriously she continues: <Still, you look injured yourself.> Looking at Portia she goes on hesitantly, touching the pendant now hanging from her neck. <I may be able to ease your physical pain a little, if you allow me.>
Crouching down by Portia as she tends Immerine’s prone body, Matteo replies to Emlyn in her native halfling, his face expressionless, <She is not my lady, Emlyn.> A gentle smile turns up the corners of his mouth and he adds, <I am sure, though, that she would appreciate your concern…> Rolling his shoulders within his leather tunic he winces then says, <If you can do anything for the injuries I have managed to sustain over the last day, I would be thankful.> Placing her small hands lightly on the young man’s temples, Emlyn replies, <Aye, I will give it a try.> Then she chants a prayer to Ilmater in her master’s Alzhedo, sending a wave of relief through the Sembian. Some of the weariness and pain seem to flee from him as the small hin-woman finishes her soft lilting chant.
Once Portia has done what little she can, she looks at Matteo and nods, fully expecting the man to carry Immerine to the carriage. Then, with a sigh, Portia rises. “If it’s all the same to you,” she says to Matteo, “I need to return to the Mansion. I haven’t communed for who knows how long, and I’ll sleep better there as well.” Her eyes take on a haunted look at the last statement. “If Tempest is willing to escort me, can we meet you at the Running Stag first thing in the morning, once everyone has had a chance to recover? I’d like to hear what’s happened since I was taken, but…” She shakes her head, “I just can’t concentrate right now…”
Nodding at Portia’s words, Matteo gives a wry smile and replies, “It is good to see you safe, Portia.” Running a hand through his hair he grimaces at the grime covering his body then glances down at Immerine. “Why don’t you hop into the carriage, Portia? I’ll bring Immerine over. When Tempest comes up he can join you and whoever else wishes to ride in it. The Mansion isn’t that far from the Stag, you can go there with Tempest to see Lord Sillisten and then send the carriage on to the Stag. I’ll walk back to the barracks to inform the Captain that you are alright and then make my way to the Stag with whoever else is walking.” Leaning over Immerine he slides his hands under her body and lifts her up as he rises to his feet.
When he’s reached the rope to all the rising heroes Marc will climb up last before Telsom, using the rope to reach the rungs and using them from there. When his dirty head surfaces he looks around and smiles as he sees so many trusted friends alive and well. “Pfrrr.” He sighs with vibrating lips, trying to clear some of the thick air from his system. Then he pulls himself up out of the shaft. He nods at Matteo, “We’re all here, sir” as he waits for Telsom to appear before pulling the grate back over the opening.
Looking to Ditalidas, Telsom looks as if about to say something but then quickly shuts his mouth, his gaze moving from the lady to the ground his nostrils flaring slightly.
After moving the grate back, Marc pats Friend’s head twice and straightens his back. Friend curiously sniffs at Marc’s legs, her eyes looking almost accusingly up at her filth covered master. Satisfied Marc looks at the gathered. He smiles broadly. “Even Portia’s here!” He sighs satisfied at no-one in particular. Then he turns to lady Ditalidas and humbly says, spreading his hands to show his dirty state, “I’m afraid you’ll want me to have another bath now.” Then a naughty look lightens up his eyes and he giggles. “Imagine… Two baths within a week!”
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